Admiral Dr. Brett Giroir, former assistant secretary of US Health and Human Services and the testing czar for Covid-19 during the Trump administration, told CNN he agreed with President Biden’s message that people should be concerned about the Omicron variant, but they should not panic.
“I do agree with that tone and that message,” Giroir said, when asked about Biden’s remarks. “We should be concerned … but we should not panic.”
“Our testing still works perfectly. It is very likely that our vaccines will provide some immune protection, and I agree it’s very important to top off your tank, top off your immune tank, by getting that booster. Independent of Omicron, it’s very important to get it just for Delta,” he said.
Asked about what is being seen early on in terms of what is known about Omicron, Giroir said, “we have no evidence that Omicron is more severe.”
Referencing comments from Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a doctor who has treated patients with Omicron, who said on CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday that the majority of cases being seen are mild to moderate, Giroir said that he would love to believe it — but it’s important to remember that patients treated were generally young.
“We really don’t know how Omicron is going to affect the elderly or those who have chronic conditions,” he said. “So we have no evidence that it’s worse, but I don’t want people to assume that it’s just mild and we can blow this off.”
Giroir also said that the variant is “likely here already. We don’t see it taking over, it doesn’t mean that it won’t, but, you know, we just need to remain calm.”
He reiterated that there are things that can be done, including getting vaccinated and boosted, getting home tests, making sure the elderly are protected and wear masks when appropriate.
Giroir added that there are new oral antiviral medications that “will be completely effective against Omicron, as they are against the others.” One antiviral, from Merck, is being considered by US Food and Drug Administration advisers on Tuesday.
The oral antiviral medicines are “very important, powerful tools that will work against Omicron, Delta and all the other variants,” he said.
Giroir also said the US “absolutely” needs more testing. He said that testing “plummeted” in the middle of summer “and there was a lull in the production of antigen tests,” although he thinks that the administration is trying to reverse that.
One thing that people can do, he said, aside from getting a booster shot is to get home tests.
“I literally just went to Walmart yesterday and picked up two boxes of home tests, just to be prepared and for my family to be prepared,” he said. “Everyone should be able to do that. And I think the federal government should send home tests to all those who are underserved or an at risk community so they can test themselves.”